Thaw In Sacramento Arena Stalemate

SACRAMENTO, Calif – Bringing a much-needed splash of hope to the negotiations turned ugly, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson met with Kings co-owner George Maloof on Friday in Las Vegas in the first sign either side is trying to resuscitate the collapsed arena talks.

Maloof spokesman Eric Rose said the meeting lasted nearly an hour and was “cordial,” but that “nothing definitive resulted.” That it ended without ambulances being called, though, qualifies as progress considering the level of acrimony between the sides, turning a meeting uneventful in terms of actual arena progress into a meaningful step.

“I thought it was really important to kind of have an honest and frank discussion, and I thought we were able to do that, re-establish communication,” Johnson said during a sideline press gathering during halftime of the Kings-Thunder game. “We didn’t get into the core principles of the deal. That wasn’t what it was about today. It was really us just sitting down face to face and talking about the possibilities. I felt very good. I felt, again, we had a very productive meeting. It was a solid step forward, enough that we’re going to continue to have a conversation early next week.”

The former All-Star point guard with the Suns twice dodged the question of whether he felt more optimistic after the meeting than he did the last few weeks, as both sides rained down comments that pushed the Kings’ future in Sacramento to the brink again.

Johnson was more specific when asked if he now believes the Maloofs genuinely want to stay, as they have claimed despite scuttling the agreement: “I’ve said this time and time again: I’ve got to take them at face value. George communicated today something that he said publicly in the last week or two, that he prefers to be in Sacramento. That was the premise that we continued to have a conversation on and that was the premise that led us to saying, ‘Let’s have a follow-up conversation early next week.”

City officials were furious with the Maloofs, a sentiment shared by most in the region, for pulling out of a non-binding deal for a new arena after initially agreeing to it. Kings ownership looked even worse when Rose unnecessarily threatened relocation, weeks after the Maloofs had had talked about the arena plans as a done deal. Johnson and top aides responded by unleashing a public-relations campaign to show up the family that angered the Maloofs and drove the sides further apart.

The new problem on the horizon is that meeting the original timetable of opening the new arena for the 2015-16 season may be impossible even if there is a quick resolution.

“I don’t know what the hard deadline is,” Johnson said. “I can’t imagine us going longer than another week or two. I just can’t imagine that scenario. And quite honestly, I don’t even know if we can even make it today. That’s what we want to find out, when is the drop-dead deadline to be able to have everything in place to be able to make 2015.”

The mayor and Maloof plan to talk Monday or Tuesday to arrange the next meeting.